Zooming down powdery slopes is an ideal way to burn calories during the winter months. Navigating the course safely, avoiding other skiers and snowboarders, and ensuring your own safety are things to consider when participating in winter sports.
In addition to falls and collisions, injuries from improper equipment and poor training can happen to skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Our experts understand the importance of training before, during, and after hitting the slopes, as well as the importance of rehabilitating an injury before returning to the sport.
“It’s important to train because preparation is one of the easiest ways to prevent injury,” says Josh Szabo, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers – UPMC. “With any physical task you’re going to perform, your body has to be prepared to do so.”
Common Ski and Snowboard Injuries
As with any sport, there is a chance of injury while skiing or snowboarding. Some situations in which injuries can occur include:
- Altitude sickness.
- Ignoring posted warning signs for dangerous areas.
- Ill-fitting or improper equipment.
- Hidden hazards or weather conditions.
- Skiing/snowboarding on trails above your skill level.
- Skiing/snowboarding for long periods of time without adequate rest and hydration.
- Ski-lift injuries.
“Snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding are weather-dependent sports involving cold temperatures and elevation, which can lead to dehydration. When you’re at a higher altitude, there’s less oxygen in the air, which increases your respiratory rate and causes you to lose more water and become dehydrated more easily,” says Dr. Szabo. “Plus, you are probably less apt to drink fluids in the cold environment as opposed to a hot summer day. So, dehydration can happen more insidiously, which can decrease your athletic performance and capabilities.”
Even experienced skiers and snowboarders who are properly equipped and follow the rules of the course can be injured. Common skiing or snowboarding injuries include:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears or strains.
- Head injuries, including concussions.
- Neck injuries, including whiplash and neck strain.
- Sprained knee.
- Shoulder dislocations or fractures.
- Spinal injuries.
- Wrist and hand injuries.
Concussions or other head injuries can happen when skiers or snowboarders collide with others on the slopes or veer off course and into a tree or other obstacle. Shoulder dislocations and fractures are possible during falls and collisions. Wrist and hand injuries can result from skiers or snowboarders putting too much pressure on a wrist or hand when trying to catch themselves during a fall.
Torn ligaments often happen when skiers and snowboarders twist and turn suddenly, fall awkwardly, or catch a ski or the board on something.
Preventing Skiing and Snowboarding Injuries
To ensure safety, it’s important for skiers and snowboarders to have a firm understanding of the sport’s rules and guidelines. Signs are posted on trails designating their difficulty. When trying out a new trail or course, start on one with a lower degree of difficulty before moving on to more challenging trails, regardless of your skill level.
Skiers and snowboarders should be sure they are comfortable with all aspects of the ski area, including the ski lift. Injuries on the ski lift commonly occur when skiers and snowboarders:
- Do not understand the proper way to enter or exit the ski lift.
- Do not lower the safety bar.
- Collide with other skiers/snowboarders when exiting the ski lift.
Last, it’s best to be in good physical condition before skiing or snowboarding to help avoid injuries. This includes cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and flexibility, which can be included in your regular exercise routine.
Equipped for Success on the Slopes
As in any sport, proper equipment and clothing will help prevent injuries and improve performance when skiing or snowboarding.
“Skiing and snowboarding are equipment-intensive, so you have to make sure that your equipment is well-maintained and secure,” says Dr. Szabo. “The boots should be properly fitting, the binding should be maintained to ensure the safety mechanisms work, and the skis need to be tuned appropriately according to the conditions in which you’ll be skiing. All these aspects ensure the safest experience possible.”
The equipment you need while skiing or snowboarding includes:
- Well-fitting ski boots or snowboard boots.
- Properly adjusted bindings that fit your boots.
- A helmet.
- Skis and poles that are fitted to your size and ability.
“You should always wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding, no matter what,” says Dr. Szabo. “You also have to make sure your helmet is in good condition. If you have an older helmet, it may have already taken an impact that could diminish its capability to properly protect your head. Or, you may have sweated in your helmet a fair amount, which can decrease performance function and the ability to dissipate an impact.”
In addition to proper equipment, the right clothing and a few wardrobe tips will help you stay safe in the elements, including:
- Dress in layers.
- Wear clothing that’s wind resistant.
- Wear hats or headbands.
- Wear gloves or mittens
- Wear goggles or sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Getting Back on the Slopes with UPMC
If an injury does occur, the experts at UPMC can help you get back on the slopes with an individualized treatment and management plan specific to your goals.
“UPMC has some of the best physicians and physical therapists in the area, who provide a high level of care,” says Dr. Szabo. “Those who have sustained an injury are going to get the best care possible, as well as the quickest and safest return to their snow sport.”
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